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Border & Immigration

Refugees in San Diego Seek Representation in Redistricting

San Diego’s redistricting process will have to keep a large community of refugees in mind as it looks to re-draw the lines, according to advocates for refugees. Local non-profit organizations will be holding an event Thursday aimed at educating San Diego’s refugee community about redistricting and how it affects them.

Organizations like Empower San Diego, Refugee Forum and Horn of Africa feel that the local refugee community, ranked largest among cities in the United States, needs better representation in regional, even national politics.

Emily Serafy Cox, Executive Director of Empower San Diego, hopes to provide the opportunity for refugees to become involved in civic discourse and the community. “They have everything to lose or gain from redistricting” she said. “They have been counted and are reflected in the census” and must take advantage of that.


San Diego’s refugee population has seen significant growth since the 1990s, when conflicts across the Horn of Africa, in countries like Somalia and Sudan, caused millions to flee. Fortunate few make it to places like Kenya and ultimately the U.S. as refugees. Once in the United States, refugees can apply for naturalization and become citizens or legal residents.

Although San Diego is home to an estimated 90,000 to 150,000 refugees from different countries, many fear the census tends to under-count them. Ralph Achenbach with the San Diego Refugee Forum said refugees are less likely to participate in the census. “Their history of persecution and distrust in government causes them to avoid authority figures” or take part in civic discourse.

While refugees find a niche in the local economy and pay taxes, many still feel uncomfortable participating in politics, he said.

According to Achenbach, more than 90 percent of new refugees being resettled in San Diego hail from Iraq. In the past decade, this trend has made San Diego the refugee capital of the U.S., said Achenbach.

While the City of San Diego and neighborhoods like City Heights became the choice for East African refugees, El Cajon and its surroundings have become home for an estimated 20,000 Iraqis.


San Diego Refugee Forum also counts more than 80,000 refugees from Vietnam since the '70’s, along with Cambodian, Afghan and Iranian communities as well.

San Diego’s well-established refugee community may make it easier for newly resettled people to adapt to their new life in the United States, according to the forum.

Thursday's educational forum will start at 2 p.m. at Horn of Africa, 5296 University Ave., Suite F, in City Heights.